Revelations That Author Was Not A Woman
MADRID — In a literary world long crowded with successful men,
some held up the popularity of Carmen Mola as an example that times were changing in Spain.
Publishing under a pseudonym, the writer produced a detective trilogy with an eccentric female police inspector as the protagonist. The public was led to believe Carmen Mola was a married, female professor who lived in Madrid, but knew little else.
The mysteries, both within the plots of the novels and surrounding the author’s identity, were a recipe for success, selling hundreds of thousands of books in the Spanish-speaking world. But the greatest surprise of all came last month during a ceremony attended by the Spanish king where Carmen Mola was awarded the Planeta Prize, a literary award worth more than a million dollars, for “The Beast,” which was released on November 4.
A team of three stepped up to receive the prize. All were men: Antonio Mercero, Jorge Díaz and Agustín Martínex.
The revelation prompted a fierce debate, which has spilled into blogs and bookstores across Spain. Some women seized on it as a symptom of gender imbalance in the literary world. Others felt that they were duped by the authors or that the publishers had peddled a deception. Some saw it simply as a debate over creative expression.
Mr. Mercero said he was surprised by the criticisms. He said the writers’ main concern when it came to gender was to overturn a sexist convention that had bothered them: that detective books should be about men.
The Carmen Mola novels feature Elena Blanco, a police officer in her 50s. Her understudy is a young male officer who falls in love with her, a reversal of the crime novel cliché that Mr. Mercero said had been key to the drama.
“The reaction appears to me to be a bit disproportionate,” Mr. Mercero said of those who focused on the pen name.
Laura Casielles, a poet in Madrid, said that early in her career, female voices were few in publishing. But in recent years, publishing houses have sought out anthologies by female poets, and it felt as if the authors were exploiting the same cultural shift.
“This has been felt by women, by female writers, by activists, and by many readers,” she said. “And it feels like a bad joke.”
Carmen Mola became a household name in 2018 after the publication of “The Gypsy Bride,” the tale of Inspector Blanco unraveling a
particularly gruesome murder of a woman from Spain’s Roma community. Published by Alfaguara, a division of Penguin Random House, the novel had two sequels.
The revelations about the men behind Carmen Mola have raised
questions about how far their publishers went to promote the narrative that the writer was a woman.
In 2018, when “The Gypsy Bride” was released, María Fasce, an editor at Alfaguara, published an account of how it was acquired. She said Carmen Mola was a pseudonym and could even be a man. But the account also quoted a biographical bit claiming the writer was a female professor who “lives in Madrid with her husband and three sons” and featured a supposed interview in which the author used female pronouns.
That crossed an ethical line for Mathieu de Taillac, a Spain correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro, who said he spoke to the editor for a piece he wrote about Carmen Mola. Ms. Fasce didn’t correct the false biographical information in her account, he said.
“I consider it a deception,” he said. “I included things that, at the very least, we now know are lies.”
Ms. Fasce said in an email that she was bound by a confidentiality agreement not to reveal the author’s identity. Mr. Mercero said the writers were responsible for the detail on Carmen Mola’s being a married professor.
Carmen Mola’s name will remain on the cover of “The Beast,” Mr. Mercero said. But the authors had abandoned the detective genre for something different: “The Beast” is a historical thriller set during a cholera epidemic in 1834.
In Spain, cries of gender imbalance and deception.